Check the map

article018I often hear people say, “I would love to do an adventure race but the navigating thing scares me”. In reality, even if you’re a frightfully slow hiker, can barely sit in a kayak and spend more time pushing your mountain bike than riding it, you can ‘crawl’ your way to the end of any race. But in an adventure race, a poor navigator would be hard-pressed to locate the numerous checkpoints and transition areas that define the course, much less the finish line.

In training, we all too often focus on the physical side, yet one navigational mistake can blow the speed benefits gained through of months of training by setting you back hours. Navigation is therefore a stand-alone discipline that must be practised as frequently as any other. Essentially, navigation defines adventure racing and sets it apart from other off-road events. Pure athleticism and physical strength do not guarantee a good performance.

NO GPS ALLOWED
In nearly all adventure races, navigation is done only by use of topographical maps and a compass. These maps are two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional landscape, with contour lines indicating elevation (mountains and valleys) and colour-coded symbols denoting recognisable features such as rivers, roads, settlements, trails, lakes, boundaries and vegetation.

With practise you will learn to relate this jumble of colours and lines to the surrounding landscape. This is the key to navigational success; You need to recognise and match real-life mountains, valleys, river and other significant features to those represented by the irregular wave-like contour lines and symbolic dots, dashes and shapes.

A magnetic compass is an extremely useful tool. When used correctly it is a reliable guide, especially in conditions where visual clues are unreliable, such as when it is dark, or when you’re on open water or in a dense forest.

The compass needle swings freely on a pivot to point to magnetic North. By lining up the direction of magnetic North on your map with the red tip of the compass needle, whatever feature you can physically see in front of you should be symbolically represented above where you think you are on the map. If it isn’t, you’re not where you think you are on the map…

In the words of adventure racing legend and navigator extraordinaire Ian Adamson, “Great navigators always know where they are, even when they’re lost!”

STAY FOUND
Using a 200km adventure race to try your navigational skills is a costly (and frustrating) exercise. Rather polish your skills at smaller orienteering events. Usually held held on Sunday mornings in the Cape Town and Johannesburg areas, these 30-minute to 3-hour events, reinforce basic navigational principles; Compass use, feature recognition and map orientation and interpretation. Orienteering truly is ‘cunning running’. (For more info on orienteering, visit the South African Orienteering Federation website at www.saof.org.za)

The Polaris Mountain Bike Orienteering Series is another gem. Presented by Relativity Africa (www.relativity.co.za), these events challenge your navigational skills through point-score events where you are given a limited time to locate as many controls a possible. Relativity Africa also hosts an annual Polaris Navitac (paddle orienteering) event.
Note: The Polaris events have been discontinued

One-day navigation workshops are held intermittently (coordinated on demand) around the country. Keep an eye on ww.AR.co.za for news of these courses.

LEAD THE WAY
Finally, each team only needs one navigator… and it doesn’t have to be you. If you don’t feel up to the task yet, join a team that already has a navigator. Navigation should not present a barrier to your participation. Although it may take a while for you to achieve a level of competence, the effort and errors are well worth the reward, because it’s immensely satisfying to outwit and outsmart other competitors.«

I often hear people say, “I would love to do an adventure race but the navigating thing scares me”. In reality, even if you’re a frightfully slow hiker, can barely sit in a kayak and spend more time pushing your mountain bike than riding it, you can ‘crawl’ your way to the end of any race. But in an adventure race, a poor navigator would be hard-pressed to locate the numerous checkpoints and transition areas that define the course, much less the finish line.

In training, we all too often focus on the physical side, yet one navigational mistake can blow the speed benefits gained through of months of training by setting you back hours. Navigation is therefore a stand-alone discipline that must be practised as frequently as any other. Essentially, navigation defines adventure racing and sets it apart from other off-road events. Pure athleticism and physical strength do not guarantee a good performance.

NO GPS ALLOWED
In nearly all adventure races, navigation is done only by use of topographical maps and a compass. These maps are two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional landscape, with contour lines indicating elevation (mountains and valleys) and colour-coded symbols denoting recognisable features such as rivers, roads, settlements, trails, lakes, boundaries and vegetation.

With practise you will learn to relate this jumble of colours and lines to the surrounding landscape. This is the key to navigational success; You need to recognise and match real-life mountains, valleys, river and other significant features to those represented by the irregular wave-like contour lines and symbolic dots, dashes and shapes.

A magnetic compass is an extremely useful tool. When used correctly it is a reliable guide, especially in conditions where visual clues are unreliable, such as when it is dark, or when you’re on open water or in a dense forest.

The compass needle swings freely on a pivot to point to magnetic North. By lining up the direction of magnetic North on your map with the red tip of the compass needle, whatever feature you can physically see in front of you should be symbolically represented above where you think you are on the map. If it isn’t, you’re not where you think you are on the map…

In the words of adventure racing legend and navigator extraordinaire Ian Adamson, “Great navigators always know where they are, even when they’re lost!”

STAY FOUND
Using a 200km adventure race to try your navigational skills is a costly (and frustrating) exercise. Rather polish your skills at smaller orienteering events. Usually held held on Sunday mornings in the Cape Town and Johannesburg areas, these 30-minute to 3-hour events, reinforce basic navigational principles; Compass use, feature recognition and map orientation and interpretation. Orienteering truly is ‘cunning running’. (For more info on orienteering, visit the South African Orienteering Federation website at www.saof.org.za)

The Polaris Mountain Bike Orienteering Series is another gem. Presented by Relativity Africa (www.relativity.co.za), these events challenge your navigational skills through point-score events where you are given a limited time to locate as many controls a possible. Relativity Africa also hosts an annual Polaris Navitac (paddle orienteering) event.
Note: The Polaris events have been discontinued

One-day navigation workshops are held intermittently (coordinated on demand) around the country. Keep an eye on ww.AR.co.za for news of these courses.

LEAD THE WAY
Finally, each team only needs one navigator… and it doesn’t have to be you. If you don’t feel up to the task yet, join a team that already has a navigator. Navigation should not present a barrier to your participation. Although it may take a while for you to achieve a level of competence, the effort and errors are well worth the reward, because it’s immensely satisfying to outwit and outsmart other competitors.

Author: Lisa de Speville | Published in Runner’s World SA, Dec 2005